SYDNEY’S LOST BIRDS

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When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788 the bird life was incredibly rich and varied.  Before long  the artist John Lewin  was producing watercolours of  the colony’s unique species, such as the beautiful lyre bird pictured at left.

Superb Lyrebird

Superb Lyrebird

The old Tank Stream  (which now runs underground) provided  fresh water. Native shrubs such as banksias and grevilleas  attracted nectar feeding birds, including what became known as the Lewin’s honeyeater.

Lewin's honeueater

Lewin’s honeueater

Sadly, as the settlement expanded the birds’ habitat was destroyed.  Competition from introduced species  compounded the problem. Many species were forced to the margins of town and beyond.

In 2009, artist Michael Thomas Hill created a temporary  installation to commemorate fifty birds which have disappeared completely from the city centre.   The site chosen was Angel Place; a  pedestrian lane running  between George and Pitt streets. Steps lead  down  to  the lane from Martin Place. Decorative cages were  strung high above the pavement; their empty interiors a stark reminder of the displaced birds.  The project was so well received that it became a permanent  feature, and 180 new, rust-proof cages were installed.

During the day  the  recorded calls of  vanished birds can be heard  over  the background rumble of traffic.  As evening falls the haunting calls of  nocturnal species  are played; Tawny Frogmouths, White-throated Nightjars, and  owls. The   calls were  recorded by wildlife  expert Fred van Gessel.  It is a true sanctuary in the heart of the city. Appropriately,  there is music of a different kind nearby, as the  City Recital Hall is also  located in the  lane. One of the sweetest  little birds remembered is the Eastern Yellow Robin. It is affectionately known as the ‘dawn harpist’, a name  so fitting for  Angel Place.

Eastern Yellow Robin

Eastern Yellow Robin

180 empty birdcages

180 empty birdcages

The names of the lost birds appear on the pavement of the lane, like  small tombstones.

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A gorgeous songster; the Golden Whistler.

A gorgeous songster; the Golden Whistler.

 

Fortunately, some of the city’s lost birds can still  be found in  outer suburbs, where remnants of bush remain . Many more remain plentiful in the beautiful Blue Mountains, where I am fortunate enough to live.

 

Satin bower bird

Satin bower bird

Eastern Spinebill

Eastern Spinebill

The elusive whipbord has a unique call.

The elusive whipbird has a unique call.

 

Just around the corner is  Ash Street,  a great place to   stop for coffee or a meal. There is more whimsy here, though definitely  less poignant.;

 

Ash Street runs off Angel Place.

Ash Street runs off Angel Place.

 

I love these ‘hidden’ spots in the city and I hope you will have the opportunity to enjoy them too.

Here is another story about Sydney, and a  pavement memorial to a man who was as elusive as the shyest bird…..MR ETERNITY

 

 

 

3 Comments
  1. Another thought provoking post concerning what has given way to development. It’s inevitable; but at least as we grow, so does our knowledge of how to preserve the things still remaining. You must live in a lovely environment. I grew up hearing the whip-bird calling in our bushy swamp on the Sunshine Coast. The river that runs by our property used to have black swans gliding up and down with their cygnets. The river was named by the Aborigines which means black swan. Unfortunately I don’t think the swans are there any more. I must ask my brother who lives in the original plantation home.

    • Pauline

      Hi Heather, yes we have a huge variety of birds here.The whip birds always appear after rain….I love their calls. There is nothing better than a river to attract bird life. We only have a creek and the local duck pond. However we are beside the national park, which attracts many different species.

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